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Fly Fishing Waders Guide for Anglers

Get a buying guide to the best fly fishing waders, plus learn why, they are used in fishing as well as important features to consider.

Fly Fishing Waders

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the most important purchase for a fly fisherman or woman is a fly rod. One of the most stressful purchases I’ve experienced was wading boots, because I was concerned about the right fit and traction for hikes to rivers (and in them).

But tucked in there amongst the flies, zingers, gloves, nets, and other essentials that you’ll inevitably on your journey is a significant item that we haven’t yet addressed on this blog: fly fishing waders.

If you’ve never worn a pair of waders before, you’re in for a real treat. Be prepared to put on the equivalent of a medium thickness garbage bag with suspenders and a belt. At least, that’s the way I felt in the first pair I ever wore.

Woman wearing fly fishing gear holding a fishing poll standing in front of a river
Me – at the river – in my waders!

I’m being dramatic of course . . . wearing my waders is one of my favorite parts of fly fishing! As a beginner, it makes you feel like you’re “really doing it.” When you play a sport and put the jersey on, there is a very official feeling as you jog onto the field. Waders provide that same feeling in fly fishing. The experience feels real.

The reason I called waders “garbage bags” is because my first experience was renting an old pair that smelled bad and were too big, with booties that were too big, wedged into boots with worn soles (that were too big).

If you’ve never worn waders before, it’s a new sort of experience. Usually when you get into a body of water, you don’t put on waterproof overalls. With leggings and socks underneath them. When you finally put on a pair of waders and step into the river, you’ll feel the cold water. But you won’t be getting wet.

And in that moment, you realize something very important – waders are another key investment in your fly fishing career. You’re looking for a good fit, quality materials, and potentially other features that are important to you.

Fly Fishing Waders

Before I get to the list of waders I wanted to share some frequently asked questions about them. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to check these out to learn more. Get the full list of recommended waders by scrolling down to the bottom.

Why do fly fishermen wear waders?

It’s a great question, especially when you see people in their sandals fly fishing by the side of the water. Waders are aptly named as you will be using them to wade into the water. They keep you dry, and are used over other clothing layers when the weather is cold or wet.

Sure you can stand by the bank of the river, and there’s even wet wading if you want to step in a few feet in your Chacos. But generally speaking, if you’re going to go a bit deeper the river (especially in chilly water), or it’s really cold outside you’re going to want to have some fishing waders on.

Fly fisherman fishing trouts in river

Do you have to wear wading boots with waders?

Yes. Waders typically have a neoprene bootie at the bottom, which is waterproof. But you need the boots for traction, for warmth, and to prevent your booties from getting punctured. There’s a lot going on the bottom of a river, which you’ll get to see “up close and personal” if you choose not to wear boots.

Note: some waders come attached with boots, and some anglers prefer that. I like to wear stockingfoot waders so that I can clean and dry items separately.

Do waders keep you dry?

They do. Waders are waterproof. Wading boots are not, so the water will go into the boots, but the water won’t go through the neoprene booties. Or the polyester upper.

I have noticed that when some beginners pull their feet out of the waders and wading boots for the first time, they think their feet got wet. Well, it’s probably sweat. Waders are somewhat breathable (but not completely), so your socks might be a little damp (feet sweat too!).

What is the belt for on waders?

Like a regular belt, they keep the waders in place on your body. But the belt also has another crucial purpose, which is keeping the water out if you fall. If you bust your bum in the river without a belt, water can flow into them and make you look like Violet Beauregarde in seconds.

Not to sound too marose, but water in your waders can cause you to sink and drown. And fishing is supposed to be fun, so no drowning allowed! Keep your belt on and cinched up to prevent any mishaps.

Man fly fishing in the fall in a river

Do you really need waders to fly fish?

No, you can successfully fly fish without them. Plenty of people fish from the banks of the rivers or do something called “wet wading,” where you wade into the river in sandals or shoes.

When I went to Orvis fly fishing school, our second day was spent on the river. No one wore waders, and we got into the river with our sandals (and I got my pants wet).

Eventually you will want waders because you’ll want to go to cold rivers or cold places (you will get the bug!). But you don’t have to have them to fly fish.

If you’re ready to invest in your first pair of waders, check out my list of recommendations below. Also read these tips before you get into the list. These should help you grab your waterproof overalls and get out to the river in no time!

Tips for Fitment:

  • Expect to spend a little bit more for better overall fit, lighter materials, or extra features.
  • You’ll typically want four measurements for waders – chest, waist, hips, and inseam.
  • Lots of waders have sizing options for short/tall, and those who might weigh a little more at various heights. You might have to spend a bit more to get the sizing, but it is available.
  • The fit should be slightly baggy but you should be able to move in them. Make sure that you can crouch down (for proper catch and release fishing!) as well as walk briskly without discomfort.
  • Usually you’ll wear these when the weather is cold, so make sure there’s enough room underneath for layers. Try them on with a jacket and leggings you might wear out to the river, to ensure there is enough room.
  • A little extra room in the booties is fine. You don’t want them tight. My waders have a little excess bootie (I’m an 8.5 and they go up to size 9), and once I stick them into the wading boot it’s not noticeable.
  • If you are female, I recommend looking specifically for waders for women. There are several options out there now that accommodate for hips, a waist, and a chest. I note which of these have women’s options in the list.

Fly Fishing Waders

Check out this list of fly fishing waders on the market from lowest to highest in price, with all the features that each has to offer.

What waders do you have? Do you love them? I’d love to know in the comments! Also don’t forget to get our gear care article here.